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by Guardian.co.uk” width=”140″ height=”45″ />This article titled “Trumpitecture: what we can expect from the billionaire cowboy builder” was written by Oliver Wainwright, for The Guardian on Sunday 27th November 2016 12.00 UTC
As the self-styled builder president, Donald Trump began his electoral campaign with a grand architectural promise. “I will build a great wall,” he said, standing in the lobby of his proudest creation, Trump Tower in New York, surrounded by 240 tonnes of pink Breccia Pernice marble. “Nobody builds walls better than me, believe me. And I’ll build them very inexpensively.”
The billionaire real estate tycoon and president-elect has made a career out of building inexpensive walls and filling them with very expensive apartments. But this would be a wall of a different kind: an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall” that would march along the Mexican border, to keep out the “drugs, crime and rapists”, punctuated with one “big, beautiful door” – presumably so his Trump Tower taco bowls could still come in.
Like most of Trump’s policies, the wall has always been big on bluster but light on detail. It mysteriously grew in height as his campaign snowballed, from 30 to 55ft, while budgets rose from bn to bn. Independent assessments suggest it would cost more like bn and require more than three times as much concrete as the Hoover Dam. Unperturbed, Trump insisted his wall would have “beautiful everything” and be “just perfect”. “Maybe someday they’ll call it the Trump Wall. So I have to make sure it’s beautiful, right?” Since winning the election he has conceded that, in places, it might actually be a fence.
If it’s anything like the other edifices that bear his name, in 20ft high bronze letters, beauty might be stretching it. From the serrated flanks of his brooding Trump Tower to the gold lamé attire of his Las Vegas hotel, his buildings glow with a surface sheen, like his own bronzed face, but it is a veneer of luxury that masks a prosaic product underneath.
As the former New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp put it, Trump’s towers “don’t quite register as architecture” but instead stand as “signs of money, status, power” like the “diamonds, furs, yachts and other tokens of the deluxe life enjoyed in Marbella”. What Muschamp found objectionable about Trump’s taste was not the “desire for attention, for the best, the most, the tallest, the most eye-catching” but “his failure to realise these desires creatively in the architectural medium”. For the king of superlatives, nothing has ever turned out quite as “tremendous” as he promised.
His first Manhattan project, completed in 1980, set the tone, taking the ailing Commodore hotel, a handsome brick and limestone building from 1919, and entombing it inside a shell of mirrored glass. It spawned the Trump style of wrapping standard buildings in paper-thin party costumes of chrome, bronze or gold depending on the occasion, and adorning them with sparkly signifiers of glitz and glamour.
Just like his policies, Trump’s real estate projects are often characterised by bold claims that don’t quite stand up – beginning with their height. He famously inflates the floor numbers of his buildings: the “90-storey” Trump World has 72 floors, while apartments in Trump Tower begin at “floor 30”, despite there being just 19 commercial storeys below them. “People are very happy,” he has said, openly proud of his marketing ruse. “They like to have apartments that have height, the psychology of it.”
The Trump Tower in Chicago was planned to be the tallest building in the world when it was announced in 2001, but it was hurriedly scaled back following the 9/11 attacks – despite Trump’s rhetoric of not being cowed by terrorists. It now stands like a stunted Mini-Me version of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa (designed by the same architect), at less than half the height of its Arabian cousin.
Lacking the desired height, Trump tried to make up for it with the size of his sign, which spells out his name in back-lit stainless steel letters running the length of half an American football field across the 16th floor. Mayor Rahm Emanuel slammed the sign as “tasteless” and set about changing the city’s regulations to prevent a repeat of such vulgarity. As ever, Trump hurried to Twitter to defend his creation: “Before I bought the site, the Sun Times had the biggest, ugliest sign Chicago has ever seen,” he thundered. “Mine is magnificent and popular.”
But the popularity of the Trump brand – a byword for “Superior Quality, Detail and Perfection” according to his website – has suffered hammer blows as a result of his vitriolic presidential campaign. In Dubai, where he is building a golf course in the desert, a large billboard featuring the man himself swinging a club was taken down following the announcement of his plan to ban Muslims from entering the US, while sales of his home decor range were also suspended.
In Istanbul, where the conjoined tilting shafts of the Trump Towers loom 150 metres above the city, President Erdoğan has declared that “the ones who put that brand on their building should immediately remove it”. Even before his comments, the 0m scheme had not provided the premium that investors were promised.
Similar stories of inflated expectations, followed by legal wrangling, are repeated across the globe. The Trump Ocean Club in Panama was plagued by delays. By the time the yonic edifice was completed in 2011, there was a glut of high-end apartments, so prices were slashed and many buyers walked away. The condo owners’ association is trying to sack Trump’s management company, claiming it exceeded budgets and used its fees to cover hotel costs. Trump, in turn, is now seeking m in damages.
The Trump Tower hotel in Toronto – topped with a strange quiff like the man himself – also opened late to find the market flooded with five-star hotels. It has been subject to a lawsuit by buyers who say they were misled by marketing materials, while the local developer is also trying to remove Trump’s name from the project.
The story is repeated in New York, where Trump unusually settled a lawsuit brought by buyers of his 0m Trump SoHo development. They asserted that they had been defrauded by exaggerated claims. He admitted no wrongdoing however. According to the New York Times earlier this year, a separate lawsuit stated that the project was “developed with the undisclosed involvement of convicted felons and financing from questionable sources in Russia and Kazakhstan”.
Elsewhere, plans for further Trump towers, from Rio to Azerbaijan, have hit the buffers, while recent records show his controversial golf courses in Scotland have made losses of almost £26m. In sum, it all suggests that Trump might not be quite the star deal-maker he claims to be. So what is it like to be on the wrong side of his famous deals?
Architect Andrew Tesoro had first-hand experience of being on the receiving end of the Trump Organisation’s deal-making machine when he was commissioned to design the Trump National golf club in New York state, a process that left him on the verge of bankruptcy. Driven by Trump’s infectious enthusiasm, the project quickly tripled in size – along with the associated workload – but the additional fees were not forthcoming.
By the time the building was completed, Tesoro had amassed unpaid invoices to the tune of 0,000. After endless requests and meetings with his associates, he finally got a face-to-face meeting with Trump, which proved to be a textbook lesson in Trump’s trademark cocktail of charm and ruthlessness.
“He told me that we built the most spectacular clubhouse in the world,” Tesoro recalls. “I was the finest architect he’d ever met, he was going to make this project the best-known building of its type in the world, the next project was going to give me the opportunity to recoup any money that I’d lost – and, just because I’m such a nice guy, he was going to offer me ,000 to go away.”
At first Tesoro declined, so he was handed over to Trump’s attorney. “The attorney told me quite directly that, if I sued, I would probably get all the money I was owed, but that it was his job to make it take so long, and cost me so much, that it wouldn’t be worth it.”
It raises questions over how Trump plans to administer his 0bn infrastructure plan, a scheme that has already got the construction industry salivating at the thought of the tax-credit-driven contracts. “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,” Trump declared in his victory speech. “We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none.”
The American Institute of Architects was quick to pledge its unwavering support to the new administration, writing that its 89,000 members “stand ready to work” with Trump on his grand building plan. But it turns out that the AIA had neglected to consult its members, many of whom have pointed out that Trump’s bigoted pronouncements don’t quite chime with the institute’s “diversity and inclusion” goals.
The Architect’s Newspaper, meanwhile, warned that architects who contributed to the “proposed border wall or its attendant detention centres, federal and private prisons, and militarised infrastructure” would be perpetuating inequality and the “racist patriarchy of Trump’s ideology”.
As architect and critic Michael Sorkin writes in an open letter: “Trump’s well-documented history of racial discrimination, tenant harassment, stiffing creditors, evasive bankruptcies, predilection for projects of low social value – such as casinos – and his calculated evasion of the taxes that might support our common realm are of a piece with his larger nativist, sexist, and racist political project.”
He concludes: “We call upon the AIA to stand up for something beyond a place at the table where Trump’s cannibal feast will be served. Let us not be complicit in building Trump’s wall but band together to take it down!”
The AIA has since issued a grovelling video apology, admitting their statement was “tone deaf” – while no doubt rushing out to stock up on security fencing and gold glazing catalogues.
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